National News

The economics of Keystone in an era of cheap oil

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2015-01-06 02:00

Back when the Keystone XL pipeline was proposed in 2008, oil hit an all-time high and traded at over $140 a barrel. But oil has crashed, trading below $50 on Monday.

Approval of the pipeline is at the top of the agenda for the new Republican-controlled Congress. The question is: What is the energy rationale for and against the project in a period of cheap oil?

Click the media player above to hear more.

The economics behind Keystone in a time of cheap oil

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2015-01-06 02:00

Back when the Keystone XL pipeline was proposed in 2008, oil hit an all-time high and traded at over $140 a barrel. But oil has crashed, trading below $50 on Monday.

Approval of the pipeline is at the top of the agenda for the new Republican-controlled Congress. The question is: what is the energy rationale for and against the project in a period of cheap oil?

Click the media player above to hear more.

Secure phones (and apps) hit consumer market

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2015-01-06 02:00

The recent hack on Sony has been good news for at least one industry: cybersecurity. The sector gets a bump in attention whenever there is a leak of this magnitude. And right now, one of the hot markets in the business is mobile.

As more corporate information flows through employee smartphones, companies are paying for hardware and software to protect that data. To meet demand, security firms are developing increasingly secure phones and encryption software. Some of that new technology is now filtering down to the consumer market.

Vic Hyder is a former Navy SEAL, and he does not like the idea that his phone could leak his data — basically, that someone could be spying on him. So, Hyder is talking to me on his Blackphone, which encrypts his phone calls, emails, and texts.

Hyder is the chief strategist at Silent Circle. The software firm has partnered with a Spanish smartphone company to release the Blackphone. No, not a Blackberry, but a Blackphone, which is as secretive as it sounds.

In addition to encrypting communication, the Blackphone comes with a set of apps that do not send data to marketers. In the past, customers have mostly been CEOs, government officials, and celebrities. For instance, Hyder tells me that Shaq has just tweeted about getting a Blackphone. But Hyder says the device is starting to have a broader appeal.

More companies are buying Blackphones for employees, and now individuals can buy them online, too. Blackphone is currently developing an app store that it hopes will make the device more versatile and user-friendly. The company is not alone in the market for secure phones. Samsung has also started offering more security options for consumers.

With all the news of leaks and hacks, people are starting to pay more attention to mobile security, says Tyler Shields, an analyst at Forrester. But most regular people are not losing their sensitive data through hacks. They are losing it through their apps. 

Domingo Guerra, the president and founder of Appthority, which assess app security, says most apps make money by gathering and selling personal data.

“Because most apps are free or really cheap,” he says, “developers are almost encouraged to collect data.” To put it in perspective, Guerra says, “almost 99 percent of free apps collect some user data.”

On the whole, Guerra says apps are not getting better at protecting user information. He says some are so faulty that developers do not even know what information is being collected and transmitted to third parties. Of the three million apps his company has surveyed, Guerra says only a fraction are secure.

If that does not change, Guerra says we can expect to continue leaking data, regardless of what device we use.

Some new credit cards are more secure than others

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2015-01-06 02:00

Come October, stores and restaurants must install new credit card readers that accept secure credit cards with smart chips, or the store will be held responsible for any fraud that occurs. U.S. card issuers are scrambling to send members new chip-enabled cards, but not all of them will work the same way.

Some will require customers to sign a receipt like today. Others will use a more secure PIN code, like at an ATM, but most banks are choosing convenience and familiarity over security.

Click the media player above to hear more.

Schools go to court for more funding

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2015-01-06 02:00

Just before the new year, a three-judge panel in Kansas ruled that public schools are so under-funded as to violate the state’s constitution. Lawsuits like the one in Kansas have become a popular tactic to try to win more money for public schools. Thirteen states, from Texas to Pennsylvania, are facing active litigation.

In Hutchinson, Kansas, funding shortages have caused class sizes to increase, says Shelly Kiblinger, superintendent of public schools. Staff have also been let go. While the district once had three school resource officers, it now struggles to keep one. Five years ago, the district joined others in suing the state.

“Students were not receiving adequate funding,” Kiblinger says. “We were not able to provide them with a suitable public education, which is required under the constitution of the state of Kansas.”

The ruling in Kansas means the legislature could have to come up with hundreds of millions of dollars for public schools. More money isn’t on the way yet. The state is expected to appeal. An earlier case in Kansas led the state legislature to increase funding for schools, only to cut it back during the recent recession.

“Even when the rulings are in favor of the school districts, you don’t necessarily see the changes that most people would anticipate,” says Michael Griffith, a school finance consultant with the Education Commission of the States, a nonpartisan policy group.

He points to Ohio, where he says a series of court victories hasn’t led to significant changes in funding. 

Often it comes down to a battle between the courts and state lawmakers. The Supreme Court in Washington state has threatened to shut down the public schools or fine legislators if they don’t come up with increased funding.

In Kansas, Griffith says, the state doesn’t have the money, and the only way to increase education spending would be to raise taxes.

“I think there would be a huge reluctance in the state of Kansas to do that,” he says.

Then there’s the question of whether more money leads to better schools. After its own court battles, Wyoming now spends more on education per student than any other state, but student achievement still lags. Money alone doesn’t fix schools, says Michael Rebell with the Campaign for Educational Equity.

“Money does matter if it’s used well,” he says. “Without it, you can’t make progress, especially when we’re talking about kids from low-income, high-poverty backgrounds.”

With schools enrolling more kids than ever with special needs, he says the cost of educating them is just getting higher.

A particularly fresh-faced Congress

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2015-01-06 01:30
13 senators

That's the number of new senators being sworn in on Tuesday. As the WSJ reports, they join 33 others who have served less than one six-year term, marking a change from what was once viewed as an institution governed by seniority.

$3.5 billion

AOL's approximate market value. Verizon has reportedly approached the company for a potential acquisition or joint venture, Bloomberg reports. People close to the talks said Verizon is seeking expertise in advertising, content and video.

13 states

That's how many states are currently facing active litigation concerning funding to the public school system. Kansas, the latest to join the ranks, saw a three-judge panel rule that public schools are so under-funded as to violate the state’s constitution.

1.5 meters

The maximum distance at which the new LG G Flex2 will recognize a special gesture to take timed selfies. That should come in handy coupled with your new five-foot selfie stick, but it's far from the only "bleeding-edge selfie tech" being shown off at the Consumer Electronics show this year. Quartz has a round-up.

$50

That's the price oil traded below on Monday. With the Republican-controlled congress taking hold on Tuesday, approval of the Keystone XL pipeline is at the top of the agenda. But the pipeline was proposed back in 2008 under different conditions, which leads some to wonder what is the energy rationale for and against the project in a period of cheap oil.

3,040

The number of breweries operating in the U.S. as of this summer, the most since the 19th century. But the explosion of craft beer means brewers are starting to run out of names for themselves and their many varieties of pale ale, NPR reported, and it's leading to some legal battles.

Former Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell Awaits Sentencing

NPR News - Tue, 2015-01-06 01:19

McDonnell and his wife, former first lady Maureen, were convicted in September on several charges of corruption while he was in office.

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Speaker Election Reveals Split Among Some House Republicans

NPR News - Tue, 2015-01-06 01:00

John Boehner is set to start his third 2-year term as speaker. His election is nearly a foregone conclusion, although a number of his Republican colleagues are likely to vote against him on the floor.

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With Downloads In Decline, Can iTunes Adapt?

NPR News - Mon, 2015-01-05 23:59

Digital downloads of iTunes fell sharply in 2014, as consumers abandoned Apple's music store in favor of cheap, easy-to-use subscription services.

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For Many Of Navajo Nation, Water Delivery Comes Monthly

NPR News - Mon, 2015-01-05 23:57

When residents see Darlene Arviso driving her water delivery truck, it's like they've seen Santa coming down the chimney. But these deliveries to the Navajo Nation are far from the perfect solution.

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The Russian Who Claims Credit For Fanning The Flames In Ukraine

NPR News - Mon, 2015-01-05 23:55

Igor Girkin claims to have touched off the conflagration and he says he's proud of what he did. The former member of the Russian security service has a knack for turning up in tumultuous places.

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Addiction Patients Overwhelm Vermont's Expanded Treatment Programs

NPR News - Mon, 2015-01-05 23:54

Last year, Gov. Peter Shumlin devoted his entire State of the State address to Vermont's opiate addiction problem. Since then it has expanded treatment, but doctors say demand is outpacing services.

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How Anglers Are Learning To Save Fish That Get 'The Bends'

NPR News - Mon, 2015-01-05 23:52

Millions of deep-water fish die every year because of barotrauma, a condition divers know as "the bends." But scientists say so-called descending devices can help fish survive a trip to the surface.

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Fight Over Son's Allowance May Have Led To Hedge Fund Founder's Death

NPR News - Mon, 2015-01-05 21:33

Thomas Gilbert Jr. was arrested on charges of murder and criminal possession of a weapon in the death of Thomas Gilbert Sr.

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L.A., D.C., S.F., Boston? U.S. Pick For Olympic Host May Come Thursday

NPR News - Mon, 2015-01-05 17:56

The U.S. Olympic Committee announced Monday that its board would discuss the four cities' bids at Denver International Airport later this week — and then possibly travel to the winning city.

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Student Tuition Now Outweighs State Funding At Public Colleges

NPR News - Mon, 2015-01-05 15:33

From 2003 to 2012, state funding decreased by 12 percent overall while median tuition rose 55 percent across all public colleges," the General Accountability Office says.

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U.S. Credit Cards Tackle Fraud With Embedded Chips, But No PINs

NPR News - Mon, 2015-01-05 14:03

The nation's biggest banks are leaning toward a new credit card security system that will rely on embedded chips and signatures rather than PINs. But critics say the PIN-and-chip system is superior.

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SpaceX Plans A Perfect Landing

NPR News - Mon, 2015-01-05 13:57

The space firm will send a supply capsule into orbit, and then try a new way to recover the part of the rocket that carried it. If it works, that could dramatically reduce the cost of going to space.

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Prosecutors Say Tools For Hiding Online Hinder Cybercrime Crackdowns

NPR News - Mon, 2015-01-05 13:49

Advocates say tools that cloak online identities are needed to protect activists. Prosecutors say they hinder efforts to police all kinds of crime, from child pornography to illegal gun sales.

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Car Sales Surged In December, Capping A Good Year For The Industry

NPR News - Mon, 2015-01-05 13:07

Boosted by cheap gas and a recovering economy, automakers racked up strong sales gains in December.

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